Local agencies working on the ground should decide whether to list a species as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, according to a renewed bill from Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez.
The bill, called the LOCAL Act, is one of 17 proposed legislative changes to the Endangered Species Act from House lawmakers in the Western Caucus, a group originally born out of frustration with federal regulation of resources in Western states.
Another proposed bill from Colorado Rep. Ken Buck, R-Castle Rock, would sign into law regulatory changes the Trump administration already rescinded in the fall of last year, including cutting the 4(d) “blanket rule.” The 4(d) rule allowed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to provide the same protections to both threatened and endangered species.
Tipton said changes like the LOCAL Act would encourage and expand effective local conservation programs already operating in Colorado.
The bill achieves species recovery in a way that works with private landowners, Tipton said.
In the past, problems arose when landowners would completely clear plants listed as endangered on their property to avoid tight federal regulations on development, Tipton said Tuesday during a phone interview with The Durango Herald.
Those are the kind of situations the bill aims to avoid by working with private landowners, and harnessing the expertise of local people on the ground monitoring endangered species, Tipton said. “The ultimate goal is to recover species,” he said.
J. Paul Brown, a sheep rancher and former Colorado state senator, said the Endangered Species Act “hasn’t been amended in many years,” and there “needs to be some changes.”
“It is very easy for radical environmental groups to get species on the Endangered Species Act,” Brown said, but no animals have been removed, even animals that “are in no real, imminent danger.”
Once animals are listed as endangered, the Endangered Species Act also protects their habitat, which can interfere with development, and plowing and planting crops.
Brown has seen firsthand what protected species like wolves can do, such as “run 179 head of sheep off a cliff in one night,” he said. “I don’t want to see that in Colorado. These ranchers can’t stand any kind of loss. It has an economic impact.”
The wolves are also entering the state naturally in the northwest, and that is probably better for them than the unnatural reintroduction that is on the Colorado ballot for Nov. 3, Brown said.
Noah Greenwald, the endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said the pack in northwestern Colorado is a “start toward recovery,” but the reintroduction act is what it will take to get recovery “off the ground.”
As for the LOCAL Act, the “whole purpose of these bills is to strip protections for species,” Greenwald said.
The state of Colorado does not have statutes in place to protect the habitat of endangered species and lacks the regulatory structures the federal government can provide for species that cross state borders. And when deciding whether to protect species and habitats, Colorado’s laws allow the state to consider economic and political factors, unlike under the Endangered Species Act, Greenwald said.
If a “powerful interest in the state” doesn’t want protection for an endangered species because it will interfere with developments in industries like oil and gas, that is taken seriously into account, above the ecosystem value of the species, Greenwald told the Herald.
Hearings on Tipton’s LOCAL Act and the other reform bills for the Endangered Species Act should be on the agenda for the House Natural Resources Committee later this year.
Emily Hayes is a graduate student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.